Eunice Mondel pushed her hair back tying it with her favourite green scrunge preparing herself for another late night of searching. She locked the main door of the library, moving quickly to check the other entrances and dimming lights inside. Silent steps in her sneakers made their way around until finally she was upstairs where her search would resume. Pulling out a protein bar and a bottle of water from her pack, tired fingers began combing the backs of old leathered books. Buzzzz her cell phone sat on top of her backpack. 'ANY LUCK YET?" The text read from Aerial her bestie from middle school on.
Eunice sighed. 'NOT YET, STILL SEARCHING'. She replied back.
8 months earlier ...........
"I need to find that record. I have to know what happened to my baby girl." Aerial Bright huffed. Long legs in black boots stretched out sideways. She was a knockout for her age. Manicured nails hugged her glass of soda while they sat at the diner on a hot muggy night, while the neon lights flashed outside. Cars whizzed by on the road going through the tumbleweed dusty town. Some things never change. This diner was one of them.
"That was a long time ago, records have been destroyed or lost. It's a lot to ask." Eunice told her friend with deep defiance. She was tired. Her long hours at the library took up most of her single life. She met Aerial in grade 7, at Rockfish Junior High, and together they were like inseparable twins. One didn't do without the other, two peas in a pod they were often told. High School changed that as the pair went their own ways. Aerial seemed distant and lost in her own world. She began to experiment with makeup, clothes and hair. But she never dated boys - appearing to shy away from them altogether. No one would have suspected what would happen that night at the dance. Eunice only learned later, many years later of what her friend endured and suffered through.
"We have to try. I can help too, but no one can find out. Not a living soul in this town or it's over. I just want to know what happened to her after she was taken." Aerial's eyes began to water. Her past remained as vivid as it might have happened today. Her nails tapped her glass continually as the waitress placed their food down.
"Anything else ladies?" She asked the two friends. She smiled at Eunice knowing she was the librarian but not sure about the other one. Small towns full of secrets and gossip, Marie knew better than to divulge herself with that, she enjoyed her job.
Rumour had it Aerial grew up in the trailer park and had little to no other friends except Eunice. Her mom drank a lot and her brother was a pool shark in the city. Austen was about an hour and a half away from their little hideaway town.
"No thanks, we are okay." Eunice told her and they began to eat. The smell of fresh grilled burgers tingled her nose. She was hungrier now while her friend just picked with little interest. It might be next to impossible to find those documents, she thought munching on a fry. But at least she had a heads up access to them if they did exist, and she would find them if they were there at all. She only wanted her friend to find the peace she deserved. Outside rain began to fall, warm humid air engulfing the town as they went home, hope lightening Aerial's spirit.
"You can take that to go if your not going to eat it." Eunice told her, munching through crispy fries. Ahhh, this was almost like old times. How often had they sat here drinking milkshakes and dipping a plate of fries in a small bowl of gravy? The old diner stayed the same, including the red leather stools they sat on. This place was a time capsule of memories, the meeting place of young and old to gather and share talks. A town that could incriminate, destroy and outcast whomever they chose. Like a bad leaf on a tree of healthy branches. People could be sadistic and callous here. Eunice was full aware of that herself. Typical small town insecurities. She had not been among the popular crowd herself, divulging herself in her studies and reading. It was no wonder she became the librarian after she graduated, starting as a clerk then working up.
"Okay, I will try for you. I can't say no to my bestie and I know it was a terrible time for you. I just dont want you upset and dwelling on all that pain and sadness again. You have Star now, your a good couple and she's a sweetheart." Eunice reminded her. Aerial and Star bought a nice cottage that boasted a beautiful landscape. Star did most of the gardening while Aerial kept the house nice and loved to cook. She and Star fell in love in High School during 12th grade, after the fact of her fateful incident. Eunice worried that dredging up the trauma would only hurt her friend. Aerial had gone through enough pain and loss. She was so much better now and wiser. Her friend had grown into a strong woman with a lot going for her.
"I know - and I love you for that. But at the same time she was my baby. I didn't ask to get pregnant and I certainly did not ask to have a boy force me that night. None of how she was conceived was her fault. I just want to know what happened." Aerial was determined. A Pitt Bull challenged by a defiant community in those days. Her anger was edged so deep in her for the longest time, until she met Star. And that wasn't easy either. Star was South African, she was unique, kind and beautiful. And she fell in love with Aerial the minute they met. Her heart was filled with happiness.
"I will def owe you one." Aerial smiled and finally took a bite of her burger. "OMG, this is sooooo good. I forgot how good these diners are, haven't been here in ages."
"Me either. I gotta I will keep you posted but don't expect it to happen overnight either." And that was the end of that discussion.
So, here she was continuing to look whenever she had the time and energy. This was her fourth, or fifth night after a long day. She now had five more books that held closed records of adoption during the year of Aerial's baby birth. She'd been sent to the convent where the nuns kept her and cared for her. Aerial was only 16. The boy who raped her thought she was a snob. It happened the night of a school dance. The band was playing and Aerial was so pretty her auburn long hair gleaming under the disco lights. She wasn't interested in boys. She'd already known who she was and embraced it. However, some resented her aloofness when it came to flirting and dating boys. Bobby Platt was the worst and he often bullied her.
"Come outside, I have something for you." He smiled sweetly flashing a flask of whiskey in his hands. He stole liquor from his parents. The knew and they didn't care. His father was a lawyer and well respected. Bobby was the town spoiled rich kid brat.
"No, I am okay here thanks Bobby." She told him as nicely as she could, lips quivering. She had a bad feeling inside her gut. Her wide doe eyes darting around looking fervently for a way out. Tightened stomach made her feel suffocated. She couldn't breath and wanted escape.
Her mom was already passed out on the sofa in the trailer. An empty bottle of rum on the floor and an ashtray full of butts. The place smelled horrible, but she didn't care and ran into the tiny bathroom. Hot water soon flooded her while she cried and scrubbed herself raw, not caring how burned she would be after. Her tears always went unheard thereafter, even though her mom even asked her at one point what was wrong.
"You ain't yourself these days girl. What's going on with you?? Flo would say and light a smoke sitting at the table. She did worry about her kid. Ok, she wasn't the best mom in the world that was for sure, but she worried about Aerial now as her daughter was slipping away. The lost weight, unkempt hair, social distancing. Her and that other one, Eunice they were always together but not lately. Flo lowered her dark circled eyes with age wrinkles in the corners and sipped her coffee. An ashtray full of smelly butts lay in front of her. "I am thinking of moving to Florida. Your aunt Hazel has a trailer there in a nice park near the ocean. You can come with me. Let's start fresh, no more winters either how does that sound?" Croaked voice said to Aerial. Aerial just nodded compliantly. Whatever.
"I insist, please come on." He pulled her arm roughly and led her down to the stairwell, the gymnasium door was right there he didn't have to pull her far. Once he got her alone, he pulled her down into the corner bottom stairwell. He muffled her mouth with one hand and climbed on top of her. The stench of dirty concrete and bad air on top of his tobacco stinking breath made her want to puke. She fought with every inch of being in her, scratching his face until it bled. Bobby laughed deep from his throat. "Fiesty aren't you? Well, you won't get away from me feline beast." He murmured.
"Bobby stop it!!!! Are you crazy? I dont want this." She tried to cry out for help. It was over in a few minutes. Bobby got up and pulled his pants on, the sound of that zipper still rang in her ears for a long time. A buzzing fly in her head that wouldn't leave. She lay there on the cold cement floor. Her pretty rose dress torn crying and sobbing. Experimenting with her felinity at that time made her get the dress. She went to the thrift store and found it. It was so pretty but subtle. Now she hated everything and couldn't care less about her clothes. She could feel the soreness. The wetness seeping from between her thighs. Sounds of thumping from above meant the patrons were dancing to the beats of disco music. A crowd having fun. She should be up there too safe from this monster.
"What's wrong with you now, come on, it wasn't that bad and you act so high and mighty. And if you tell anyone I swear you will regret it." Bobby huffed at her with dark cold eyes. Callous. He roughly pulled her up. Aerial was in shock and freezing cold, shaking profusely. For months after that night Aerial stayed away from almost everyone, shrivelling from any event or offer to go out. A ghost in a world of fear and hate. Slowly, in by inch she crawled out of her darkness and began to enjoy her life again. One minute at a time.
"Go home, you can't go back in there looking like a mess. Here, take this and go." He shoved money in her hand. She wanted to hit him and hard. She could have killed him.
"I hate you and I hope you rot in hell." She spat out the words as vile as she felt. And then he left her there. After that things went from bad to worse. The nightmares, the social avoidance and losing all interest in anything that summer. She finally had to go see a doctor, but she knew what was wrong even before she was told.
"I am pregnant? How can this happen. I can't have a child. I am too young and I not even finished highs school." She cried as the her doctor confirmed her suspicions after she missed a few periods. This was not something she wanted or needed right now.
"Look, I can hook you up with the Sisters of St. Bernadette's convent. They will take care of you and find a home for your baby. I don't see you having many choices here. Your mother isnt well, her liver......here's their card." The doctor gave her the information and a week later Aerial had her first meeting.
That was during the year of 1952. over fifty years ago.
Eunice found the section in a book of records that was so far back she was shocked. The pages were yellowed and crumbling around the edges. Outside the wind picked up, cicadas sang out into the dark lonely night from the open window. Fluttering heart and holding her breath, she found a list of babies born that year at St. Bernadette's. Even the convent didn't keep their own records that far back. She'd figured they were permanently closed. From there on she cross-referenced and searched over 50 names. Girls were brought there from all over that area of the Nation. It was a haven and they were well looked after.
"I FOUND IT, GOT HER NAME' An immediate text was sent.
"OMG NO WAY" An excited reply.
'WE STILL HAVE TO SEARCH TO FIND HER THOUGH. THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. BUT WE HAVE A NAME AND A BIRTH RECORD." Eunice told her.
One year later......
Aerial and Star sat out on their veranda on a blustery fall night with stars shining down with only the sound of birds and rain. They huddled with a fleece as they looked a photo's of her daughter, now in her 30s and married to a famous Politician in Europe. She had been adopted by a wealthy family and graduated from Oxford with honours. She'd become a legal adviser for Parliament and her husband was head of security. After many searches and disappointments they finally hired a PI to help find her, specializing in missing people from Houston. He did his job well, handing them the file.
"She doesnt know your looking for her but there is all the information you need." He tossed the manilla folder down. "I wish you all the best ladies." He said and leaned back in his chair proud. His own sister went missing years before and was never found again. One of the reasons he wanted to become a PI and specialize in missing persons. He was happy his work was done well for these two.
"Will you go and see her?" Star asked staring at her lover's face now filled with some peace at long last. Her heart had broken when she heard what happened to Aerial, and loathed Bobby after. Fortunately, Bobby had incurred other troubles later and ended up serving time after all for hitting an elderly couple and causing serious damages. His big shot father couldn't defend him so he hired another lawyer. Bobby was searving ten in the Houston State Penn. with possibility of parole. He didn't age well after that, ended up an alcoholic and a few burly biker friends. His father still lived and controlled his money which was little to none. Aerial figured Bobby for dealing. She hoped he would go back to prison.
"I don't know yet, I haven't decided. I've never been to Europe before."
"Me either. It might be a fun trip, England is nice in the Spring." Star said dreamily, while her tired eyes cuddled on Aerial's warm shoulder. They were so happy and content.
"Let's talk about it then and make some plans." And with that Aerial went into the warmth of their house, her heart filled with love and gratitude as years of memories shared lay around her. This is what love and home felt like. She hoped her daughter had the same feeling and quality of life as she did.